Everywhere we look and for most things we do, somehow it all revolves around food. We go out to eat to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or promotion, etc. We entertain around BBQ lunches or dinner parties for the holidays. At church and school functions, there are socials and potluck meals. We’ve even managed to create a meal – the brunch – around socializing and catching up with girlfriends.
Culturally, and maybe even instinctively, we prepare and serve foods to comfort those who have experienced loss, to celebrate joy or to show friendship and love. Yes, food has become very important in our lives, and more than just a means to provide nutrients for our bodies to function.
What is emotional eating?
Seeing food as more than just a source of energy and enjoying it simply for the satisfaction it gives is not wrong. In fact, studies show time and again that food can promote good feelings by chemical reactions caused in our brains. What IS a problem is when an individual can’t experience pain, anxiety, joy or even boredom without turning to food as means of dealing with those feelings, or they are obsessed with food, weight and dieting.
Are you also eating whenever you are lonely or sad?
Emotional eaters often turn to food to distract themselves from having to deal with their feelings. Unfortunately, eating these foods then leads to feelings of guilt which can only be soothed with more eating, restrictive dieting, excessive exercise or in extreme cases, purging.
Emotional eaters tend to value themselves based on their weight and how closely they’ve stuck to their ‘ideal’ diet. Because of this distorted relationship with food, foods are labeled “GOOD” and “BAD.” And when left unchecked, emotional eating can lead to serious eating disorders and depression.
How do I know if I’m an emotional eater?
Do you turn to food for reasons other than hunger? Are you obsessed with thoughts of food – whether you plan to eat it or are concentrating on restricting yourself from eating it?
Do you regularly try diets and fail – leading to guilt and further over eating? Do you think about or attempt to purge excess food by throwing up or using laxatives? Do you exercise compulsively when you think you’ve eaten too much?
If you’ve answered yes to most or all of these questions, then you may be at risk of being an emotional eater. You can also take the Eating Disorders and Emotional Eating Test online for a more comprehensive indication. While these questions themselves are general and cannot form any conclusive diagnosis, please consider seeking further consultation from your medical practitioner if you suspect that you may be an emotional eater.
How do I overcome emotional eating?
Since emotional eating is caused by looking to food as a coping strategy for emotional distress, dieting can actually create more problems. When the emotional eater fails to stick to a diet they suffer feelings of guilt that can only be soothed with more food and in turn, more guilt or punishment.
Instead of trying to focus on what they are eating, the emotional eater needs to learn new skills for coping with stressful emotions.
Often this requires the help of a Personal Coach or Psychotherapist who deals with emotional eating. It is only by finding replacements for the comfort food provided that the individual can put food into its rightful place and learn healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
Here are some suggestions that might help:
Establish good eating habits and schedule mealtimes
Is your hunger physical or emotional? Regular eating habits will help regulate your hormones, especially the hunger and fullness hormones (leptin and ghrelin). Scheduled meals will also help you to recognize true hunger versus emotional hunger.
Know your triggers
Keep a regular diary to write down your thoughts and feelings are, but include what you eat and when you eat. Writing things down helps, but by recording the additional items, you can later review the days and see if any patterns emerge that reveal negative eating habits.
Get your family onboard
Your family or close friend can learn your triggers for stress and be on the lookout for changes in your eating habits. They can help you be aware of the foods you are eating, assist you in making healthy food choices and exercise along with you.
Practice relaxation techniques
Proper diet and exercise increases immunity, blood flow and positive thinking. Yoga enhances the mind/body connection so you don’t eat when you aren’t hungry.
There are many types of counselors out there that can meet your need. Emotional eating has nothing to do with dieting or changing your eating habits but gaining control over your emotions.
Above all, if you do give in to emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day.
If you suspect you may be an emotional eater, the first line of defense should be your medical practitioner, who would be in the best position to guide and advise you.